Lipid membranes in living cells facilitate non-polar chemistry in an aqueous environment by forming microscopic spaces friendly to fat-soluble compounds.

Unlike modern industry, biological systems are capable of performing complex chemistry with both water-soluble (polar) and oily (non-polar) compounds in a water-based environment. Most industrial operations, however, rely on often toxic chemical solvents to perform complex reactions with non-polar substances. Organisms have evolved the ability to manipulate non-polar molecules in water because they have no other choice–Earth is a water-based environment. They’ve achieved this feat by developing what could be referred to as “micro environments” that provide non-polar substances a favorable molecular-sized, water-soluble envelop including globular proteins, lipid bilayers, and micelles.

Cross section of the difrerent structures that phospholipids can take in a aqueous solution. The circles are the hydrophilic heads and the wavy lines are the fatty acyl side chains.

Last Updated August 23, 2016